Lecture 16: The Motherly Father

Lecture 16 – The Motherly Father: A Man with a Baby and a Bottle

By now you should be sensing the burden of this course is that being a faithful and fruitful leader is a delicate balancing act. Our natures incline to imbalance and events pull us to extremes. But to the extent that we are imbalanced or pulled to extremes, we lose our ability to lead. The difficulty of remaining balanced and poised is especially highlighted by our next two models, which we will consider together in this chapter. the Gentle Mother and the Firm Father – which combine to give us the Motherly Father or the Fatherly Mother! Just to emphasize how closely related these two models have to be, the Apostle Paul presents both to us in the space of five verses in 1 Thessalonians 2, as he addresses the twin dangers of hard-hearted authoritarianism and soft-hearted spoiling.
Question: How do you balance leading with serving, authority with gentleness?

I. The Gentle Mother (1 Thess. 2:7-9)

The Gentle Mother model, of course, is a contrast to the hierarchical, cold and authoritarian structures that tend to develop in any organization sinners are involved with. The Apostle denies that his leadership was motivated by error, impurity, trickery, man-pleasing, or greed (vv. 3-6). While as an Apostle, he could have easily pulled rank and asserted his authority over them, instead he was like a nursing mother to them. What does the nursing mother do?

A. She gently cherishes her children (v. 7)

“We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherishes her children.” Instead of explaining this, I think it would be best if you simply spent some time watching a young mother care for her infant children. Watch her wake her baby, bathe her baby, clothe her baby, feed her baby, protect her baby, comfort her baby, listen for her baby, and put her baby to bed. Then ask yourself if the people you lead feel as cherished as that baby does every day.

B. She loves to be with her children (v. 8)

Paul says he is “affectionately desirous” of the Thesalonnians. There are some spiritual leaders who cannot wait to be away from their congregations or families and dread returning to them. Imagine if a mother acted like that! Paul was the opposite. He loved the Thesalonians and longed to be with them. He enjoyed seeing them, spending time with them, and when away couldn’t wait to be back. The root meaning of “cherish” is “warms.” Like the mother, the Christian leader is to warm his spiritual children, and to be warmed by them.
Despite the Reformed church’s commendable stress on academic ability, the most effective leaders all have a high degree of emotional intelligence. Daniel Goleman surveyed the capabilities of the most outstanding leaders and concluded:

To be sure, intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels.[footnote]Daniel Goleman, “What Makes A Leader,” hbr.org, accessed 5.21.14, http://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader/ar/1[/footnote]

He then broke emotional intelligence into five components:[footnote]Daniel Goleman, “What Makes A Leader,” hbr.org, accessed 5.21.14, http://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader/ar/1[/footnote]

Definition Hallmarks
Self-Awareness The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others. Self-confidence, realistic self-assessment, self-deprecating sense of humor
Self-regulation The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods; The ability to suspend judgment – to think before acting. Trustworthiness and integrity, comfort with ambiguity, openness to change
Motivation  A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money and status; A propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Strong drive to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure, organizational commitment
Empathy The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people; Skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions. Expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity, service to clients and customers
Social Skill Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; An ability to find common ground and build rapport. Effectiveness in leading change,
persuasiveness, expertise in building and leading teams

Trust a man to rationalize emotions into logical categories. Even better than studying emotional intelligence, I suggest you study your wife as she nurses her children!

C. She shares the Gospel with her children (v. 8)

While taking care of all the child’s physical needs, the Christian mother puts the spiritual needs of the child even higher. However much physical good she gives to her baby, she longs to give something even better – the Gospel. Though she imparts white milk to their bodies, she longs to impart spiritual milk to the soul.
But remember the mother’s milks can only be as good as the mother’s own diet. If the mother eats something bad, the child will also become sick. What a responsibility to be feeding on pure and wholesome doctrine. The apostle links gentleness and Gospel teaching again when writing to Timothy: “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient” (2 Tim. 2:24).

D. She’s willing to sacrifice her life for her children (v. 8)

In fact, like the Apostle Paul, if it were possible, she is willing to even give her own life if it would lead to the salvation of her beloved children. What an unselfish spirit! She hardly thinks about the consequences for herself. Though she gives herself even when the child is well, it’s especially when the child is sick or weak or crying that her sacrificial spirit is especially strong. Like the mother, the Christian shepherd’s heart should be especially tenderized towards the weak, the sick, the poor, the young, the old, the rejected of the flock.

E. She toils day and night for her children (v. 9)

Of course, neither the Apostle nor any mother’s life can be given to save the souls of anyone. However, they give up their time, their talents, their comforts for the good of the children. Look at how Paul describes his life among the Thessalonians: “For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you…” Does that not remind you of your mother or your wife? What a model of pastoral care is given to us here.

II. The Firm Father (1 Thess. 2:10-11)

Perhaps sensing the danger of the Thessalonians running to an extreme with the Gentle Mother model and becoming too “soft,” Paul immediately introduces the Firm Father model to balance it. While the Gentle Mother model calls us away from hard-hearted authoritarianism the Firm Father calls us away from soft-hearted spoiling of our spiritual children. The leader is called to exercise fatherly authority as well as motherly care.

A. The undergirding of authority (v. 10)

The Apostle laid a foundation for his fatherly authority with fatherly presence and fatherly example.

Fatherly presence

There is no such thing as an “absent father.” If a father is always absent from the home, he is not a father. The Apostle can say “we behaved ourselves among you.” As the one whose preaching brought them to life he could call himself their spiritual father (1 Cor. 4:15). But he did not just give life and go; he lived among them and with them. They saw him and observed his conduct. He interacted and communicated with them.

Fatherly example

The Apostle asks them to remember not just that he was among them, but how he was among them. He says that his conduct was holy, just and blameless. He set before them a good and godly example.
There can be no fatherly authority without fatherly presence and fatherly example. And the more of that that exists the more fatherly authority will be respected.

B. The use of authority (v. 11)

The Apostle gives authoritative commands in this letter to the Thessalonians. However, for him, the exercise of authority is much more than the issuing of bare commands. He says: “We exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father doth his children.”

  • Exhortations (aimed at the will) are positive appeals that he makes while walking alongside them.
  • Comforts (aimed at the heart) are soothing encouragements he gives when picking them up after a fall.
  • Charges (aimed at the conscience) are earnest entreaties that appeal to objective truth.

And notice that these exhortations, comforts and charges were given to “everyone,” tailored to every single individual in appropriate measure.
So you can see that fatherly authority is a much wider and a much more demanding concept that just commanding people to do something.

C. The undermining of authority

There are many factors in wider society that undermine the spiritual authority of church leaders (the general lack of respect for authority, the media’s caricaturing of preachers, the scandals involving prominent preachers, etc). However, this loss of authority is often made worse by the leaders themselves.
We can diminish our authority by inappropriate dress. What we wear does have an impact upon how people view us. Remember, people do look on the outward appearances and make judgments about our character. If we dress like teenagers when we are 60, or dress for a funeral when playing games with the children, or dress casually for a formal function, and if we disregard established social conventions, we will lose people’s respect.
We can diminish out authority by inappropriate conduct. Notice that I am not saying sinful conduct; that obviously will leave us without a leg to stand on. No, what I’m talking about here is not sinful conduct but simply what is unwise. If we act like an academic scholar when we are talking to children, like a gladhanding politician climbing the social ladder when in company, like a radio talk-show host when giving our opinions, etc., then again people are not going to respect what we say.
We can also diminish our authority by acting like a comedian when preaching the Word of God.

D. The abuse of authority

This really all comes down to the difference between God-given authority and worldly authoritarianism. It’s not easy to distinguish at times but let me begin with some broad definitions:

  • Authority is the lawful use of lawful authority: God, the church, the state, or a business has given someone the right to govern and guide your life in a certain area, and that authority is being exercised in the right areas in the right way.
  • Authoritarianism is the exercise of unlawful authority: It’s someone who has not been given any authority over my life trying to rule and run my life, or someone who has authority in one limited area of my life, trying to rule and run other parts or every part of my life.
  • Authoritarianism is also the unlawful use of lawful authority: Someone takes the authority they’ve been given and abuses it by exercising it in ways that only benefits them and usually damages me.

I’m sure you can come up with better definitions, but how about we try to put together some marks of authoritarianism. What does this look like? How do I recognize it? How do I know if I’m being authoritarian or just exercising legitimate authority? How do I know if I’m being a victim of authoritarianism? Let’s take a second look at “Mr. Controller.”
1. Mr. Controller is power hungry. He’s always trying to get more control over your life. He’s never satisfied with knowing what he knows about you, but always want to know more. He’s never content with power in one or two areas, but wants power in every area. He gets his biggest thrills from ordering other people around and making them feel subservient.
2. Mr. Controller never suspects he may be abusing his power. He never says, “Please let me know if I you ever think I’m overstepping my bounds.” He has little or no awareness about his own tendency to misuse power.
3. Mr. Controller gets easily and terribly offended whenever anyone questions his authority. “How dare you speak to me like that!” “Do you know who I am?” Any questioning is viewed as insubordination, rebellion, disrespect, etc.
4. Mr. Controller thinks of himself more as a King than a servant. He rarely thinks or asks “How can I serve you?” Instead, his prevailing attitude is “How can I rule you?” He’s out to gain more control not to give more help.  He empowers himself rather than others.
5. Mr. Controller threatens when threatened. Whenever his authority or power is questioned or challenged, even when it’s done humbly and appropriately, he warns of unpleasant consequences for the questioner. He certainly never pauses to ask, “Did I exceed my authority? Did I handle this correctly? Have I made a mistake?”
6. Mr. Controller keeps a long record. His position of power has enabled him to build big memory files on his “victims,” which he does not hesitate to use (or hint at using) when necessary.
7. Mr. Controller tells rather than teaches. He orders people around without explaining why. “Just do it!” He doesn’t take the time or make the effort to explain himself or his “guidance.” He prefers law and sanction to teaching, instruction, and motivation. He’s afraid that if he teaches principles and aims at changing the heart, that people will then work out things for themselves rather than be dependent upon him for everything.
8. Mr. Controller clings to power. Unlike true leaders who love to train other leaders and delegate power to them, he clings to power and refuses to let go. Because, of course, no one is as wise and competent as he is.
9. Mr. Controller hates to be controlled. He’s often resistant to anyone being in authority over him or telling him what he should be or do. He’s often a vociferous critic of other sources of power and authority around him. He figures, “If I can weaken him/her/them, I strengthen myself.”
10. Mr. Controller lacks self-control. This is his weirdest characteristic. You’d think that such an addiction to control would produce a deeply disciplined person. Not at all. Most controllers have major deficits in the self-control department. Perhaps it’s because they are so busy interfering in other people’s lives that they neglect their own. Maybe it’s because they find it easier to direct and discipline others than themselves. I don’t know, but watch out for this. Behind most authoritarian personalities is usually a lack of biblical authority, often manifested in bad morals or bad temper.

III. Conclusion

The key to leading with authority without becoming authoritarian is to continually balance the firm father model with the gentle mother model. That alone will help prevent underusing or abusing of authority.